While reading “Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex” a question popped into my head, what would I do if I had a child who was intersex*. It is unlikely that I will have any children, and even less likely that my partner will go through pregnancy to have our child, so I posed the following to Facebook to see how others handled this:
Before having kids did you research and discuss with your partner things like intersexuality?
Like, how would you handle it if your child was born with both male and female genitalia, or “abnormal” genitalia?
The results were kind of mixed. I’ll start with the group that I agree with.
Do Nothing: Unless there was a medical need for survival or the health of my child I would do nothing. I wouldn’t remove testes, trim back a phallus that was “too big” for a clitoris but “too small” for a penis, alter the urethra opening, create a vaginal cavity, or anything else. If my child decides to alter their body to conform to how they feel inside that is a choice they can make when they are adults. I don’t think permanently altering the body of a child (and this includes circumcision) is within the rights or responsibilities of the parent unless that permanent alteration is necessary for survival or a healthy life.
Don’t Worry About It Now: The second group basically said the chances of it happening are so small that it isn’t even worth discussing until it happens. Personally, I don’t operate that way. My partner and I discuss a lot of things that probably won’t happen, we don’t sit around worrying and fretting, but we do have basic plans if something unexpected (tragic or not) happens. While numbers are very hard to come by for intersexuality current estimates put about 1 in 100 babies are born that differ from the standard binary, and about 1 in 1,000 babies receive surgery to “correct” “abnormalities”. That isn’t a small number and is in the realm of a child having Down Syndrom (which seems to be discussed more often). That seems like something that should be discussed at least once if you are bringing a life into this world, at least to get an idea that you and your partner are on the same page. You may not know exactly what you will do but the discussion seems worth having.
Abort: One person put abortion but he may have been trolling. I disagree with this for two reasons. First, it is technologically impossible, you don’t know whether your child is intersex until after it is born. Secondly, wanting a child but aborting it because there might be some difficulty raising it is a shitty move. Don’t have a child if you only want it to be easy or normal.
Appeal to Authority: Another response was to let the doctor decide what to do. Honestly, this may have been my response before reading the book. Aside from giving a view into the history of intersexuality in France and Great Britain, the book also showed that doctors have traditionally had a vested interest in maintaining a heterosexual binary in society. To many of them all sexuality should fit in two boxes, humans are either MEN (male, attracted to women, masculine) or WOMEN (female, attracted to men, feminine) and there is no room for things in between. That is changing in some circles but doctors aren’t gods, they are biased humans who lack a lot of knowledge and won’t bear the consequences if they make a mistake when permanently altering an infant.
As we continue to explore what it means to be human we are finding that sexuality is far more complicated than anyone could have realized. Terms like pansexual, polyamory, and genderfluid didn’t even exist a generation ago. What it is all really pushing towards is an acceptance of individuals as individuals instead of pushing them into boxes. Many power structures (particularly religion and government) have a vested interest in keeping everyone in easily defined boxes and categories but, thanks to the internet (imo), that is changing. Someone’s gender, chromosomes, and genitals are becoming less important. Questions like “are they straight?” or “is that a woman?” have always been cover for what we really want to know “Could they be attracted to me?” or “Do they fit into a category?”, those questions replace individuality with tribalism and changes their value based on whether they will be a potential sex partner.
Thankfully, we are moving away from that. We are moving to a time where we love ourselves as we are and we love others for who they are.
*I realize definitions can be tricky but for this blog intersex means that the genitalia (internal and/or external) do not easily fit into the male/female binary. I think that binary is limiting and bullshit given the diversity of our evolved species but that is for a different blog post.